Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
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Time Out says
Sat May 21 2011Murder mysteries rarely run as deep as this long, dark night of the soul from Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan, director of ‘Uzak’ and ‘Three Monkeys’. Ceylan is a master of brooding stories defined by their wry questioning of human nature and often focused on men in crisis. He has an unflinching eye for the worst in all of us and for the black comedy and absurd banalities of everyday life.
For his sixth film, Ceylan has chosen his bleakest canvas yet: a murder investigation that begins in the dark wilds of the great Anatolian outdoors and ends in the cold light of an autopsy room. In tone, it’s Ceylan’s most epic and talky film yet. But don’t be fooled – it’s also his most mysterious and meditative.We meet a group of a dozen policemen, soldiers and others as they drive about on the steppes one night in search of a body with the two men suspected of burying it. It’s an ensemble piece, and for much of its 158-minute running time, the film itself feels like a painful, fruitless inquiry as it seeks themes, subjects and characters to latch on to. It’s a police procedural, yes, but you imagine that’s just an excuse to bring together a varied group of men in the face of a terrible event. It’s very far indeed from a traditional whodunnit.
However, the murder allows both Ceylan and us time to stop and consider what life means in the face of it being snatched away. He throws in some haunting, jolting moments to remind us that the answer is beyond our grasp: a flash of lightning illuminates a scary stone carving of a face and an apple mysteriously rolls down a stream with a little too much autonomy. Here, Ceylan’s visual style is less heightened, more down-to-earth than the more stylised ‘Three Monkeys’, but still some of the night-time scenes look like careful paintings, such is the precision of their lighting and composition.
This night feels like it might last forever. A convoy of cars pulls up at one spot, and another, and another… We hear snippets of chat about yoghurt or illnesses. Our focus shifts from a prosecutor to a doctor to the accused, or sometimes Ceylan pulls back and shows us the whole gathering, lit by the moon or headlights. The entourage takes tea at a village where a beautiful young woman serving them awakens new feelings in one of the prisoners and the story begins to take on a more intimate, spiritual dimension as it focuses increasingly on the character of the doctor. He’s a metropolitan outsider in a small town and a man struggling with a fiercely logical approach to life. Just as the woman stirs feelings in the prisoner, so this investigation unsettles the doctor – just as, we imagine, Ceylan hopes to unsettle us as he takes us with him on this compelling, masterly journey.
Author: Dave Calhoun